Larklight by Philip Reeve – 5 stars
Arthur (Art) Mumby and his irritating sister Myrtle live with their father in the huge and rambling house, Larklight, travelling through space on a remote orbit far beyond the Moon. One ordinary sort of morning they receive a correspondence informing them that a gentleman is on his way to visit, a Mr Webster. Visitors to Larklight are rare if not unique, and a frenzy of preparation ensues. But it is entirely the wrong sort of preparation, as they discover when their guest arrives, and a Dreadful and Terrifying (and Marvellous) adventure begins. It takes them to the furthest reaches of Known Space, where they must battle the evil First Ones in a desperate attempt to save each other – and the Universe. Recounted through the eyes of Art himself, Larklight is sumptuously designed and illustrated throughout.
I found this book at the library and picked it up to read to my son, who is 8. It went over his head, but I found it charming. It’s steampunk as steampunk can be, written in a Victorian England style, and taking place in that time period. As it says on the cover, this book is truly “A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space”.
Such imagination went into this story. It’s gloriously absurd in nearly every way. The assertion of the breathability in the vacuum of space is the least insane thing, and all of it enchanted me as I followed Arthur Mumby in his quest to flee giant talking spiders. Poor Art is young enough to not like girls yet, but old enough to take charge of his fate: a proper English gentleman in the making.
All the characters felt at once ridiculous and real. As I read it aloud, I had an incredible urge to use a British accent (which, I’m not afraid to admit, I gave in to more than once). In a delightful turn, it switches three times to excerpts from Art’s older sister’s secret diary, in which Myrtle relates pieces of the tale from her point of view.
Unless you’re turned off by steampunk or insane adventure stories, I can’t imagine anyone not liking this book. The illustrations throughout are wonderful additions, and I recommend putting your hands on the hardcover if you can; I imagine a story like this would feel wrong to read off a screen. My library had this in the Juvenile section, which is fair, as the main character is (I think) ten years old. Young readers, however, may find the writing a bit convoluted and awkward to parse (I believe this was the problem for my son). Twelve is probably a good age for this book, younger for those with precocious reading skills.